Human heart regeneration on the horizon

Life would be easier—and longer—if the human body could improve its ability to repair itself. Unfortunately, unlike salamanders’ tails and the Terminator, the human body is not capable of regeneration. Until now.

A team of researchers at the University of Houston is developing strategies to regenerate heart muscle cell formation.

The human heart has a finite number of muscle cells that are naturally depleted as a person ages. When the heart endures a trauma, such as cardiac arrest, connective tissues replace the muscle cells lost in a process called fibrosis. Fibrotic cardiac muscle is stiffer and leads to the loss of pump function, which can cause death.

In research, which was published in the Aug. 8 edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, assistant professor of biology Yu Liu states that the team has found new regulators of heart cell formation. The hope is that these small species of RNA, called microRNA, will convert human fibroblasts into heart muscles.

Grants from the American Heart Association support the project. The teams hopes to be able to use microRNA to treat human heart attacks and heart failure within the next five to 10 years.